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Maconaquah denied title by Mishawaka Marian

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SNARED: Maconaquah special teams members Jacob Rush (L) and Colin Deckard (R) keep Mishawaka Marian return man Michael Gibson (C) from going far on a punt return during the first half of Friday night’s sectional final. Special teams was a big boost for the Knights in the win as the Braves repeatedly had to move the ball 80-plus yards to score, only doing so once in the 35-7 loss.
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ROUGH-N-TUMBLE: Maconaquah wing Jared Blake (C) picks up positive yardage with Mishawaka Marian defenders buzzing around during Friday night’s IHSAA Football Class 3A Sectional No. 27 final. Blake would pick up the lone touchdown for the Braves in the game, rushing for 106 yards on the night, in the 35-7 loss to the Knights, who won their fourth-straight sectional title.
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GATHERING: Maconaquah’s players meet for a final time in the 2018 season after falling in Friday night’s sectional final to Mishawaka Marian 35-7. The Braves set school records for most points and first downs as a team while Paxton Kintner, who recovered a second half onside kick, set a new record for solo tackles in a season.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

MISHAWAKA – The size of the task facing 3A No. 19 Maconaquah in its bid to finally add a football sectional title to the trophy case was revealed in a 2:21 stretch of the opening stanza of the IHSAA Football Class 3A Sectional No. 27 final Friday night.

3A No. 14 Mishawaka Marian had one offensive snap in the first quarter but scored twice in the period and while the Braves moved the football on several occasions, the visitors only scored once as the Knights won their fourth-straight sectional 35-7.

Maconaquah head coach Austin Colby said the team had good moments but lost the big play battle.

“We played pretty well,” Colby said. “We said the game would come down to around six-to-eight plays that we were going to need to win to win the game.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t win any of those plays and when you play a school like Marian, one that’s had football success, they’re going to be in the right spots at the right time and if you don’t capitalize on those plays, you’re going to be in trouble. It’s something we can build on and work on for next year.”

Maconaquah tried to replicate its start from last week against Tippecanoe Valley and moved the ball Marian territory over the course of 12 plays before punting away.

Marian’s only offensive snap of the period seemed like it was going nowhere as Malcom Anderson was initially bottled up but the sophomore broke free of a pile and burned up 72 yards to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.

The Braves went three-and-out on their next possession and punted, only for attempt to be blocked, scooped up by Mitchell Menting and run 15 yards to double the Knights’ lead to 14-0.

The double-whammy was a case of two plays where the visitors could have done more according to Colby. 

“(Marian) scored on a big play where we should have tackled the runner for a yard gain,” Colby noted. “(Anderson) just kept his feet moving.

“Them scoring off the blocked punt hurt.”

Needing a steady drive, Maconaquah embarked on one of its most impressive drives of the season, covering 80 yards in 21 plays in 9:32, ending when Jared Blake bulled in from four-yards out to cut the deficit in half at 14-7.

“We did respond well with the score,” Colby said about the drive. “We ate some clock and would go into halftime down only a score, so kudos to us.”

Marian nearly answered in impressive fashion but missed what would have been a sure-fire touchdown as Mitchell Floran dropped a pass from John Brach after beating the Braves defense over the top.

Both teams failed to gain much traction until halftime but with the Knights set to receive the ball to open the second half, something big needed to happen to swing the momentum back into the visitors’ favor.

The Braves got what they needed when Richard Reimer’s short kickoff was allowed to drop and, with the hosts caught off-guard, Paxton Kintner recovered to give Maconaquah possession at the Marian 35-yard line.

A first down followed but the Knights stiffened defensively, bottling up the Braves and forcing a turnover-on-downs.

Colby said not being able to convert on the turnover was a major moment in the game.

“That’s one of those plays you have to capitalize on,” Colby said. “It was a huge opportunity that was dropped.

“It was a chance to even this game up and you can’t put into words how bit a momentum swing it was for them to keep the ball out of the endzone.”

Marian followed up by hitting three big third-down plays in-a-row, the first a 34-yard pass from Brach to Floran, followed by another Brach connection, this time to Maddix Bogunia, for 10 yards and finally a 23-yard Brach run for a touchdown to give the hosts a 21-7 lead.

While mounting a comeback wasn’t impossible, Colby said being behind by even two scores was a situation the team was not accustomed to.

“It was tough once we went down two scores as we’re not used to being down throughout the year,” Colby pointed out. “We were fighting through some adversity there we hadn’t face all year.

“We moved the ball well all night and we weren’t afraid of being down two scores but it was going to be tough.”

Maconaquah was quickly three-and-out on its next possession and two plays later came a hammer blow for the visitors.

Brach threw a bomb in the direction of Bogunia down the left sideline where the sophomore and Braves defender Chance Hagan were both eyeing up the catch.

Hagan went for the interception but missed while Bogunia came down with the catch and a quick run to the endzone for a 74-yard score to give the Knights a 28-7 advantage.

The Braves picked up three first downs on the next drive but could not sustain the drive and punted away.

Marian would do the same but a 57-yard boot from Hunter Renner pinned the visitors on their own 11-yard line.

Maconaquah picked up a first down but time was against them and, trying to go to the air, Nolan Kelly saw a pass tipped and intercepted by Miguel Ortiz.

Three plays later, the Knights added some gloss to the score when Tyler DeBoe ran in from nine-yards out to give the hosts a 35-7 lead.

The Braves would get one more possession but punted away and after a first down, Marian was able to take two knees to end the game and host a football sectional title up for the fourth year running.

Maconaquah finishes the season 9-3, 3-1 in TRC South play with  a third-place finish in the conference and two sectional wins, breaking through barriers of winning a sectional game (2002) and reaching a final (1999).

Colby, who completed his first year as head coach, said the moment was tough but there were plenty of things to look forward to.

“It’s something where I can look back on it and reflect,” Colby said about his first year as coach coming to an end. “We did fall short on two of our goals, which were conference and sectional titles.

“We can build off this and hopefully get those next year.”

Maconaquah will have to replace a 15-strong senior class, a group Colby said battled through tough times, but said the returning players now had a platform to build off of for 2019.

“It was a huge foundation these guys laid,” Colby said about the senior class. “This was a prototypical Maconaquah senior class where you have big offensive linemen, good athletes and good kids all around.

“They’re going to be missed next year but the younger guys are going to have to step up and get the job done.”